Forum: We need to reduce energy costs, not tax ratepayers
Op-ed by Bill Dornbos and John Harrity in the New Haven Register.
The Senate Republican proposal to raid ratepayer funds for energy efficiency and renewable energy would decimate successful programs that reduce energy costs for Connecticut businesses and families. But that’s not all. Their proposal would also stifle job growth in the state’s rapidly expanding energy efficiency and solar industries, and it’s about the worst thing Connecticut could do as the harmful impacts of climate change become more apparent every day.
The Senate Republicans’ revised budget would not only divert $68 million annually from Connecticut’s award-winning energy efficiency programs into the General Fund for the next two fiscal years — a major cut that would reduce electric efficiency programs by about one-third — but it would also plunder almost half of the ratepayer funding for Connecticut Green Bank and its renewable energy programs.
In doing so, the Senate Republicans would convert cost-effective investments that save consumers money into a new energy tax on ratepayers to shore up the state’s budget deficit. Every dollar invested in energy efficiency last year produced $3.89 in lifetime savings on utility bills. But this new energy tax would slash that productive investment and then, even worse, cause significant and immediate job losses in Connecticut’s energy efficiency and renewables sectors, crippling these thriving industries at a time when we need to foster local economic growth and job creation to increase state revenues.
These raids also run completely counter to our state’s governing energy strategy, which, wisely, makes efficiency our first fuel source. The benefits of this choice are many and undeniable. Energy efficiency investments made in 2016, for instance, will save consumers an estimated $962 million in lifetime bill savings. Those same investments will also generate approximately 12,000 jobs in Connecticut because energy efficiency replaces fossil fuels imported from out of state with in-state labor. Last year’s investments will also protect public health and the environment by cutting carbon emissions and local air pollution.
The Senate Republican’s proposed budget inflicts even more harm by raiding $26 million annually from the market-based Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Unfortunately, the Democrats’ budget also raids RGGI, which reinvests money from carbon emission auctions in the energy efficiency programs and in the Green Bank. This funding was intended to reduce energy costs and speed the deployment of local clean energy, like rooftop solar — and it has worked.
Plus, the Green Bank has leveraged its RGGI funding to help attract tens of millions of dollars in private investment for in-state projects. Manufacturers and businesses helped by these investments have seen reductions in energy costs. And these reduced energy costs mean more competitive Connecticut companies sustaining more jobs for Connecticut workers.
Beyond these economic arguments is the critical concern about undermining our commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Climate change is the most important issue facing all of us for the rest of our lives. And we are fortunate to live in a state that has provided bipartisan leadership in addressing this issue. Governor Malloy’s recent announcement that Connecticut would remain committed to the standards of the Paris Climate Agreement – despite President Trump’s withdrawal from the pact — is just the latest example of such leadership.
Connecticut’s legislature has mandated ambitious, yet achievable, goals for reducing in-state emissions. Harnessing ratepayer funds to invest in zero-carbon efficiency and renewables is a critical means to achieving those goals. We cannot afford to take a break or divert funds or wait for a good budget year to do this important work. Climate change is real, it is relentless, and it is unfolding more quickly than predicted. And it has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable residents of our state, including working families.
Our kids, and their kids – and children around the world – expect and deserve to grow up in a world that is habitable. We must not step back from our responsibility to future generations in a short-sighted and misguided effort to balance the budget.
Protecting ratepayer funds that support energy efficiency and clean energy programs is good for consumers, good for homeowners and businesses, good for workers, good for people who breathe our cities’ air, and good for the climate.
John Harrity is president of the Connecticut State Council of Machinists. Bill Dornbos is Connecticut director and senior attorney at Acadia Center. Both serve on the steering committee for the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs (www.CTClimateandJobs.org).